Child-rearing is tough, and we moms try to do our best. But of course we make mistakes, as our parents did. As our daughters transform into adult women, they flow through various phases that spark new behaviors, mindsets and moods. This week, we both reflect on decisions where we wish we could turn back time and do things differently.
Hindsight is 20/20 and it is quite clear to me now what I would have done differently in raising Jenna. I wish that I had the wisdom and insight I have now when I was younger, but my perspective about parenting was influenced by the circumstances of my life and the ways of my generation.
There are two things I would have done differently:
Jenna was an only child and I was a working mom, so my time with her was precious. It was important to me for us to have quality time together doing things she wanted to do. I have memories of making plans with friends and their children – fun play dates in different places – but cancelling out or changing the destination at the last minute because Jenna did not want to do what we had decided on. This behavior did not teach Jenna flexibility and compromise. As an only child who did not have to share my attention with a sibling, Jenna needed to learn that the world didn’t revolve around her and sometimes we have to compromise and “go with the flow” if others want to do something we’d rather not do.
I worked full-time for most of Jenna’s childhood. Like many women in my generation, I was career-oriented and strived to accomplish great things in the corporate world. While I had fulfilling work and don’t think I would have been happy as a full-time mom, I do wish that I could have worked part-time so that I could have been with Jenna after school. Part-time professional work was not even something that I considered because it was rare to find. Young women of this generation have so many more options with flexible work-at-home arrangements becoming the norm at a lot of companies.
Coulda, woulda, shoulda. As the saying goes, “I guess I must have done something right” because Jenna turned out more than okay. But dear Jenna, I am so sorry for the times when I let you down or weren’t there when you needed me. May you learn from my mistakes and become an even better parent to your own children.
While there are certainly things I wish I’d done differently in my relationship with my mom, I feel lucky that the list is relatively short. We have come a long way – and I don’t think we would have grown to where we are now if I hadn’t learned from my mistakes over the years.
As a kid, I have many memories coming home from school, grabbing a snack and immediately running down to our basement – also known as “the cave.” I spent most of my free time down there watching television, playing on the computer or curling myself up on the couch for an afternoon nap. Over time, “the cave” became my retreat, the place I came to get away from any tension in the house. Ultimately, I think isolating myself became a bad habit, one that I still sink into today whenever I’m angry, hurt or upset. Even to this day, I will naturally hibernate in my room when I want space from my family. I know this kind of behavior upsets my mom: she ends up feeling shut out, rejected and unloved. It’s something I’m constantly trying to do differently when I come home; I want to continue to be better at maximizing my face-time with my mom and the rest of my family.
But when I think of one event I absolutely would have done differently, it’s a distinct car ride home from a yoga retreat with my mom. I was in my early 20s and I had been reflecting on my childhood for the first time, struggling to digest life events thus far. And I was angry. During our car ride, I blamed my mom for working so hard when I was a kid and for pushing me to participate in our ‘blended family’. In reading my mom’s section, it’s clear my hurtful words that day have stuck with her despite the years that have passed. I now completely empathize with the challenges my mom faced during those years as a single mother. She faced some impossible tradeoffs and I know that there was no “right answer.” I just wish I didn’t compound her guilt through my harsh words during those tough years.
While I wish I could have done these things differently, I don’t regret them. At the end of the day, they have shaped who I am and helped me build a stronger, more open relationship with my mom.
None of us are perfect. And it’s all too easy to look back and think of all the things we could have done better. It’s even easier to beat ourselves up and dwell on our regrets. As women, I think we are particularly prone to catching ourselves in this negative thought process. As mothers and daughters, I challenge us all to use these moments as opportunities to grow in the future rather than live in the past.